Making Merit

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Making merit is one of the cornerstones of Buddhist life.  It means paying forward, a term everyone should be familiar with.  Doing good, so good things will happen to you.  Wikipedia says:

It is a beneficial and protective force which accumulates as a result of good deeds, acts, or thoughts. Merit-making is important to Buddhist practice: merit brings good and agreeable results, determines the quality of the next life and contributes to a person’s growth towards enlightenment.

Mai’s family held a large merit making ceremony this past weekend to honour her father, who passed away 8 years ago, and a younger brother who passed away 4 years ago.  The ceremony is a big deal for the family, and it took Mai, her sister and two remaining brothers eight years to save up for the event, which lasted two full days.

Preparations

The logistics of putting this together were massive.  The family was expecting 300 family members and friends.  Since Mai is the only sibling still living close to home, the job of organizing the event fell to her.  She spent the weeks before the event visiting other villages to rent and borrow tables, chairs, tents and awnings, cooking pots, woks, stoves and dishes.  Other days were spent obtaining food; things like pickup truckloads of bananas and coconuts, banana leaves, sugar cane, large and small fish, rice and a pig.

An outdoor kitchen was set up at the back of her mother’s house and was staffed by neighbours and relatives who volunteered to do food prep and cooking.  They were there from 6:00 AM until after dark!

The day before the event Mai was told the crowd would be closer to 400 people.  No need to worry; they had plenty of food.  They just needed more dishwashers!

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images

The Event

Saturday started at 6:00 AM with breakfast for about 200 early arrivals.  I was not an early arrival.  Mai came and brought me over around 10:30, when things had calmed down a little.  I have only met a few of her relatives and conversations were challenging but enjoyable.  They were very curious about me.  The men wanted to know where I was from and what I did and the women marveled at my lovely white skin, which they said looked like a baby’s!  Between my limited Thai and their limited English we managed to get along well.

After a while though, I went and sat quietly in a shady spot and watched things happen.  Eventually, a pack of little kids found me, led by Mai’s 8 year old son Max.  I turned on my camera and that’s when the clowning around started!

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images

Sunday started a little later.  Seven monks presided over the official ceremonies at the house.  The monks pray and chant a blessing for the people in attendance.  This lasts about 30 minutes and is followed by a presentation of trays of food for each monk.  They aren’t permitted to eat after 1:00 PM so the food is plentiful and delicious!

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images

Following the ceremonies at the house the family moved to the crematorium on the local temple grounds where another short service took place.  Mai’s brother’s cremated remains were never officially laid to rest because the family couldn’t afford the ceremony.  Instead, they were kept in a metal pot at the crematorium.  They were brought out following the prayers and placed in some plastic mesh where the monks and everyone in attendance took turns pouring water over them to wash away the ash, leaving only fragments of bone.  After washing, bamboo tongs were used to remove pieces of bone and place them in a small urn, which would be properly laid to rest the next day.

Click the thumbnails below to view larger images

You can see from the photos that the facilities are very simple.  The area where the prayers took place is nothing more than a concrete floor with a raised platform for the monks, and a metal roof.  However, the peaceful setting out in the woods next to a pond is beautiful.

The monks go back to their duties at the temple and we moved back to the house to eat, drink and socialize for the rest of the day.  I was worn out by the heat and Mai took me back to our house after a few more hours, and advised that she would be back to pick me up again at 6:00 AM Sunday morning.  The party continued on until late into the night.

Sunday began with the monks visiting the house for more prayers and blessings, and breakfast.  We then moved to the site of the temple proper, which has a small cemetery.  In a brief ceremony on the cemetery lawn, the urn containing Mai’s brothers remains were blessed and sealed inside a thatu (the “u” is silent).  You can see several thatus against the far wall of the cemetery in the photo at the beginning of this post.

You may also notice in the lead photo a length of string that runs through the hands of the first monk, and on to the others and finally across the cemetery to the thatu.  This is called senday saysiycn, or holy thread as Mai describes it.  It symbolically connects the people holding it and is used to send merit to the soul of the dead.

Once again, the monks go back to their duties and we go back to the house.  It’s just after noon on Sunday by this time.  Time for a little food (OK, a lot actually) and then the festivities wind down and tents and awnings are knocked down, chair are stack, tables are folded and dirty dishes are collected.

Mai organized and ran this major family event like a pro.  She worked 18 hour days and only came to our home an hour or two a day to make sure I was fed.  She and her siblings had saved 180,000 baht (about Cdn $7,500) to pay for everything, and when all the bills were paid the event came in under budget and she was able to refund a few thousand Baht to each brother and sister!

Mai offered modest payments to the friends and family who contributed literally days of their time to set up, take down and work in the kitchen.  Nobody accepted a penny.  This is family unity and community spirit at its very best.  I’m extremely proud of my wife and happy to have been a small part of it!

MaiKen640

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buengkenalexander

I retired after a 30-year career with an engineering consulting firm in Toronto and recently moved to Thailand to marry my fiancee of 10 years and settle down to an exciting new life. I'm an amateur radio operator (VE3HLS in Canada) and hope to become on here eventually. I'm also an amateur photographer and hope to be very busy photographing and showing you my beautiful surroundings. My blog will contain entries on all three subjects, so I hope you don't mind picking through the boring stuff to get to what interests you. Oh. About bueng-ken.com. We live in Bueng Kan province, which is about as far as you can get from Bangkok as you travel northeast. I just thought it would be clever to combine my name with the province's name!

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